Acting Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has laid down a challenge to the Communist Party to find a NATO base in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk.
"[Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov has just said that 'NATO is going to land sophisticated hardware and conduct an exercise in UIlyanovsk'," Rogozin wrote on his Twitter post on Wednesday.
“I will take Communist MPs to Ulyanovsk in a short while to look for a 'NATO base’”, he continued, before providing some extra incentive for the Communists to start a search party.
“If they succeed (in finding the rumored NATO base), I will present them a crate of Armenian brandy," he said.
The Communists have yet to respond to the bet.
Meanwhile, rumors that the Western military bloc will establish a bridgehead in Ulyanovsk have succeeded in stirring up local political passions.
Ulyanovsk Region Governor Sergey Morozov has demanded that the Communist Party publicly apologize and officially retract its comments about an alleged "NATO base" in Ulyanovsk.
"Relying on various rumors, the Communist Party manipulates the feelings of people, frightening them with all kinds of scary stories – from a 'velvet occupation of Russia' by NATO forces, to threats involving…'NATO soldiers,'" the governor said in a statement circulated by his press service.
He quoted senior federal government officials as saying that the use of Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport for the transit of "non-military cargoes" does not require the creation of infrastructure facilities for, control by or deployment of any personnel of foreign countries.
"By so doing our country fulfills its obligations to assist the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which are stated in the UN Security Council resolution," the statement said.
Morozov said earlier that commercial transportation of NATO's non-military cargoes would be carried out solely by Russian crews of the Russian companies Volga-Dnepr and Polyot.
He believes that there are enough facilities and personnel at Vostochny Airport for the mission.
"No additional facilities will be built," he stressed.
The governor also assured his fellow citizens that "there will be neither a military base nor any other NATO military facilities in Ulyanovsk. And there will be no military or civilian NATO personnel at the transshipment point."
Last month, the Communist Party organized a series of rallies across Russia against the alleged plans to create a NATO base. In Ulyanovsk, 16 party members went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged base.
Earlier, it was reported Moscow and Brussels had held negotiations on an agreement that would allow NATO to use Ulyanovsk Air Base for the transit of non-lethal cargoes from Afghanistan to Europe.
The Russian Foreign Ministry insists there would be no NATO military bases or the presence of the Alliance’s civil and military personnel, but only civilian logistics facilities – “temporary storage warehouses.”
In addition, the transit hub will remain under Russian customs control. According to Deputy FM Aleksandr Grushko, Russian forces also have the right to search all cargo leaving the country for drugs and other contraband.
"Russia pays special attention to security measures, so we have an agreement with NATO that all transit goods traveling through our territory may be subject to additional checks, including for drugs," Grushko told reporters.